Which comic-based/superhero movies can you think of that feature a black character in the lead? Can you come up with any? If, like me, you came up with Spawn, Steel and Blade, then congratulations. Because for too long, this genre has been dominated by white guys leading the cast, while their black aides and ‘best friends’ play second fiddle, often in small and slightly forgettable roles. Think the X-Men’s Storm, Darwin in X-Men: First Class (remember him?), and Falcon and War Machine of Marvel’s cinematic universe. But along comes 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and who do we have here? Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, aka T’Challa, who two years later, is given a solo spin-off movie of his very own, with – wait for it – a majority black cast!
This is a landmark moment for Marvel as director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole have treaded on unchartered waters and created a film that looks at African culture to create a stunning, Afrofuturistic world that was a true masterpiece, especially considering this is the first film in their cinematic universe (and second overall, the other being the aforementioned Blade franchise) to feature a black lead.
After the events of Civil War (in case you didn’t watch it or need reminding, his father was blown up, he fought the Winter Soldier and later apprehended Zemo, the real villain of the film), T’Challa (Boseman) returns to the nation of Wakanda, where he becomes the new king and has to adjust to taking care of his country. Life is good, until Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaw pops up on their radar and ultimately leads T’Challa and co. to Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B Jordan); he has an agenda that puts Wakanda and its resources at risk, a risk that the King has to fight for as the Black Panther, with the help of his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and tech-savvy inventor sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Oh, and Danai Gurira’s warrior Okoye – can’t forget her, can we? Especially as she leads the bodyguards of the Black Panther, the Dora Milaje, and kicks butt.
While the cast does an absolutely awesome job in their roles, Letitia Wright is the standout; as Shuri, she brings humorous commentary and entertainment while playing a key role in the story, i.e. providing her brother with cool inventions and remote technology. Andy Serkis is just as funny as arms dealer Klaw, the only role I can think of where he doesn’t wear a motion-capture suit, while Jordan provides a rounded, relatable villain who allows us to fully understand his intentions and motives, as well as a contrast to the perspective of T’Challa. However, there were areas in the film that felt similar to some others in the Marvel franchise, namely the remote vehicle control (see: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2) and the hero fighting someone who is basically an evil version of himself (see: Ant-Man, The Incredible Hulk and the first two Iron Man films) - in the case of this movie, Killmonger becomes what can be described as the ‘anti-Black Panther’. Despite these issues, Black Panther was an enjoyable and unique experience that will entertain viewers who are looking for something different. And another thing? Don’t be surprised if a sequel is announced in the (not too distant) future.
Photo credit: Marvel